FAYETTEVILLE, AR – APRIL 21: Athletic Director Jeff Long of the Arkansas Razorbacks talks to former players on the sidelines during the Spring Game at Donald W. Reynolds Stadium on April 21, 2012 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The middle of November is when the coaching carousel starts to get going in college football, and the end of the line may be in sight for Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. With the Razorbacks falling to 4-6 after last weekend’s road loss at LSU, the pressure was rising on Arkansas to make a significant change.

On Monday, Arkansas made quite the significant change, although it was not the one Arkansas fans may have been expecting. Instead of Bielema being let go, it was Athletic Director Jeff Long being shown the door.

This news comes just a couple of days after it was reported that no decision was made on the status of Long or Bielema at a closed board meeting. With that being the case, it was seen as a possibility no changes would be made until the end of the season. And if one was likely to go first, the head coach seemed to be more vulnerable.

To those on the outside looking in, this decision is pretty puzzling. Long had established a reputation for being well-respected in collegiate athletics. Viewed as one of the better athletic directors in the nation, Long was selected to be a representative on the College Football Playoff selection committee and he was named the chairman of the selection committee in its first seasons. That is the level of respect Long had going for him, yet he struggled to command that same level of respect from within.

Long’s undoing may have been his devotion to Bielema when the pressure continued to rise on the head coach. But Long may have fallen out of the good graces of fans even before bringing Bielema in from Wisconsin and the Big Ten. It all goes back to Bobby Petrino and his infamous motorcycle-riding affair with a staff member.

Petrino was beloved by Arkansas football fans for taking the program to new heights during his run with the program. Petrino returned to college after a miserable experiment in the NFL, with Long opening the welcome wagon for the former Louisville head coach. After laying the foundation in his first two seasons as head coach, Petrino coached Arkansas to back-to-back 10-win seasons and a top five finish in 2011. Arkansas had gone a long time without being so relevant in the college football picture, let alone within the SEC. Petrino was admired and revered for getting Arkansas to play at such a high level.

And then he crashed his motorcycle, hurt his neck, and had an affair with a staffer unravel on him quickly. Long had no choice but to fire Petrino at the time, but it wasn’t for having an affair. It was because Petrino had lied to Long about the details of the accident and the extent of the incident as it related to the athletics department and football program. Long made the right call even though it was wildly unpopular among fans, but sometimes the AD has to make that call.

The timing of the Petrino fallout meant Long had limited options heading into the 2012 season, so he managed to pluck John Smith for one season and go all in on bringing in one of the top coaches from the Big Ten. It can be easy to forget after five seasons at Arkansas, but Bielema was coming off coaching Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowl games (he left for Arkansas before coaching the third Rose Bowl, which was coached by Barry Alvarez). The bar was set high for Bielema at Arkansas, with the hope of seeing Arkansas manage to compete with the likes of LSU, Auburn and, of course, Alabama.

Needless to say, that has not been the case. Following Saturday’s loss to LSU, Arkansas is 29-32 overall with Bielema as the head coach, and that includes a woeful 11-27 mark in SEC play.

Those three coaches have been Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss (but Ole Miss was under investigation and Freeze had a slightly Petrino-esque exit), Jim McElwain at Florida (back-to-back SEC East Division championships), and Butch Jones at Tennessee (the SEC East’s equivalent to Bret Bielema). And now that Long is out of a job, it will only be a matter of time before Arkansas decided to suck it up with the buyout price tag and thank Bielema for his service.

Long had never backed down from defending his head coach, and it wasn’t always just an AD saying what an AD should in the public. Long genuinely believed Bielema was going to break out of a funk and get things going in the right direction. Asked time and time again about the job security of Bielema over the last year, Long stood up for Bielema and never put out a feeling that his job would be on the line. During the summer media days, Long was clear in saying Bielema was not on the hot seat after going 7-6 the previous season, as noted by SEC Country.

“Bret is the leader of our program,” Long told SEC Country at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida. “The leader is more than just winning games — and I know some fans don’t wanna hear that. Trust me, it doesn’t mean we aren’t competing with every fiber of our being to win in the toughest conference and the toughest division of that conference. But when you look at what Bret’s doing, we’re building a program that’s built on an outstanding foundation.”


“There’s gonna be nothing more special than when a Bret Bielema team wins an SEC championship, plays in that final four,” Long said. “Because you know what, he’s done it the right way.”

Without Long around to defend him, the Bielema era should be coming to close. With Arkansas taking Long out of position, the jockeying for a new head coach at Arkansas could get messy pretty quickly.

Jeff Long will likely land on his feet somewhere, and he will be a good hire by any school that welcomes him to their campus. And Bielema will have his chance to redeem his coaching career as well. It just might not be at Arkansas in 2018.

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to NBCSports.com. Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.